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Kragthorpe: Utes' rally vs. Colorado adds to budding rivalry

Published November 23, 2012 6:33 pm

Rough performance salvaged with fourth quarter performance.
This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2012, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

Boulder, Colo.

Just for a moment, disregard how Utah and Colorado already were doomed to finish this season as the Pac-12 South's worst two teams.

Never mind that the Utes' 42-35 victory Friday afternoon at Folsom Field required far more work than should have been necessary to overcome a 1-11 football team.

Forget that Utah coach Kyle Whittingham's postgame analysis included phrases such as "sluggish" (offense), "soft" (defense) and "really dumb things" (special teams).

This was good stuff, I'm telling you. Anybody who stuck with these Utes through this frustrating, agonizing game against a bad team — an exercise that pretty much captured Utah's season and the state of this program — was rewarded with a fourth quarter to remember.

The Utes scored 22 points in less than three minutes with two touchdown drives and yet another Reggie Dunn 100-yard kickoff return that immediately duplicated Colorado's play.

John White scored a touchdown on the last carry of his career, while topping the 1,000-yard mark for a second season. Utah intercepted four passes in the game, doubling its season total. And a Colorado team that went winless at home this season made the Utes fight for their first road win. I'm declaring this thing a rivalry. At the very least, it has become a very entertaining, dramatic series staged the day after Thanksgiving.

Last November, Colorado kept Utah out of the Pac-12 championship game with a 17-14 win in Salt Lake City, which ended with Utah's missed field goal. Friday, the Utes visited Boulder for the first time since 1961, when they knocked off a No. 8-ranked Colorado team.

So what if neither of these teams even belongs in the top eight of the Pac-12? They managed to make the finale interesting, that's for sure. Rivalry? Why not?

"I guess you can say it's turning into a rivalry," said Ute junior defensive end Trevor Reilly.

"I guess it's going to keep building every year," said Ute sophomore safety Eric Rowe.

Those are all the endorsements I need.

The Utes do get the Buffaloes' best shot every year, certainly. Colorado's struggling offense produced 418 total yards, while the Pac-12's worst defense allowed only 336 yards. Utah offset those statistics with five takeaways, solving a season-long problem. Moe Lee's fourth-quarter interception at the Colorado 30 led to quarterback Travis Wilson's go-ahead touchdown run, then the teams traded those kickoff-return touchdowns and the Ute defense made two last stands.

Losing a 17-7 lead in the second quarter frustrated Whittingham — "I was surprised about a lot of things," he said in disgust — but the Utes responded after falling behind 28-20 late in the third period. They drove 75 yards to score on White's 11-yard run (plus a two-point conversion). A broken right arm subsequently ended White's day.

As for the Utes (5-7), their season may or may not have ended. Seemingly out of the postseason picture after last weekend's loss to Arizona, they may yet find a bowl desperate to fill a vacancy.

After their latest victory, the Utes celebrated with their fans in the northwest corner of the stadium, acting as if they'd accomplished something. All they'd really done was avoid finishing 4-8 with an embarrassing defeat. But when you're losing in the fourth quarter, well, winning beats the alternative.

No matter how this season ends, "We have a lot of work to do … addressing our deficiencies," Whittingham said.

It could be worse for the Utes. They could be Colorado. If nothing else, as the sun set over the Flatirons, the Utes proved that much.

kkragthorpe@sltrib.com